Families come together for Alzheimer’s support at classes, fundraising walk
Steamboat Springs resident and artist Sari Davidson said her mom, Noreen Guler, a retired kindergarten teacher, was vivacious and active in skiing, riding bikes, reading and playing the ukulele when Guler moved into Casey’s Pond Senior Living three years ago.
Now, as her mom’s Alzheimer’s Disease is progressing, Davidson is working harder to help her mom, 82, find joy in life’s activities.
“All of the activities that she would do to keep herself occupied, she can’t really do any more,” Davidson said.
So, along with the happenings and socializing opportunities offered at Casey’s Pond, Davidson is using her own professional background and master’s degree in expressive arts therapy to restart the Memories in the Making in-person therapeutic art class at Casey’s Pond for residents such as her mom.
“It helps access memories and that sense of self that is often disappearing with Alzheimer’s,” Davidson said. “Anything that helps people feel that sense of connection of self, sense of pride, of accomplishment, it’s so important for this population because Alzheimer’s is just so dehumanizing.”
Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Some 6 million people in America suffer from the condition. About 76,000 Colorado residents were living with Alzheimer’s as of 2020 and that number is expected to increase to 92,000 by 2025 as the population in Colorado ages, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Davidson also volunteers several times a month to play guitar and sing songs from past decades for Casey’s Pond residents. The complex includes The Harbor neighborhood that is designed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in mind and is home to about 10 residents.
Effective Communication Strategies – A free, four-part education series focusing on Alzheimer’s disease and caregiving will conclude at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. Leigh Hull, aging services coordinator at Northwest Colorado Health, will discuss physical and mental tactics to help support a loved one and reduce frustrations for patients and caregivers.
Local monthly support group – An Alzheimer’s caregiver support group meets in person at 10:30 a.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. For questions, contact Angel Hoffman with the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-387-6067.
Memories in the Making art therapy – Casey’s Pond Senior Living will restart an in-person art therapy class for resident’s in September. Community members interested in attending this program may contact Melissa Lahay at email@example.com or 970-457-4870.
Walk to End Alzheimer’s – The annual community fundraiser is set for 10 a.m., Aug. 28, at Yampa River Botanic Park in Steamboat. The event starts with registration, food, yoga and a presentation before the walk. Sign up in advance to raise funds, or show up that morning to walk. More information: ACT.alz.org/sbs
Alzheimer’s Association resources – Officials with the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter recommend resources on the website http://www.alz.org including the free education programs at https://training.alz.org/videos.
The art therapy class is part of local offerings aiming to support patients and families dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia conditions. Routt County is home to approximately 500 individuals living with dementia, according to Angel Hoffman, northern Colorado regional director for the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It is important to remember that the number of people impacted by the disease is far greater, which would include these individuals’ caregivers and long-distance caregivers who are providing support for those who reside out of Routt County,” Hoffman noted.
“There are so many families in this community dealing with a spouse, parent, a sibling with dementia. They really need support,” said Leigh Hull, aging services coordinator at Northwest Colorado Health.
Hull, also the daughter of a dementia patient, coordinated a free, four-part Alzheimer’s education series this summer that drew 75 unique attendees.
“Most people are trying to educate themselves on the disease and work through how they can help a loved one or become better prepared to take care of someone with dementia,” Hull said.
The series wraps up this week with the topic Effective Communication Strategies at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.
“For a person with Alzheimer’s Disease, the brain’s deterioration is impacting their vocabulary, communication and comprehension abilities,” Hull said. “Their care partner needs to learn how to decode verbal and behavioral messages.”
Hull said some strategies for communication include using short, simple sentences and allowing enough time for the individual to absorb each message. She advised using options when asking questions such as, “Would you like eggs or oatmeal for breakfast?” instead of posing open-ended questions.
“Use the five senses to connect, especially later in the disease when language and cognitive functions are severely diminished,” Hull said.
The seventh annual local Walk to End Alzheimer’s fundraiser is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 28 at Yampa River Botanic Park in Steamboat. The event starts with registration, food, yoga and a presentation before the walk. Multiple fundraising teams of walkers such as Purple People, Flower Power, Grammy’s Gang and Memories Matter have formed to raise funds. Or people can show up the day of, offer a donation, and join the community walk.
Walk organizer Liz Spencer at the Alzheimer’s Association said past walks in Steamboat attracted up to 75 people and raised $20,000, yet the goal this year is to draw more walkers and raise $25,000.
Davidson said supporting dementia patients and their families takes a village.
“As a caregiver, having support from people who understand the disease and treat people with Alzheimer’s with respect and honor has been so helpful for me to know that I am not alone,” said Davidson, whose dad also suffered from dementia late in life.
Davidson tries to support her mom in as many ways as possible, including twice weekly dance lessons in Steamboat with transportation provided by Casey’s Pond.
“Her sense of humor is still intact, and her joy of life is still there. So that’s why I really focus on the things that enhance her quality of life in the moment,” Davidson said.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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